If you’ve ever been to New York City, or any big city for that matter then you know that public transit is the best way to get around. It can be intimidating at first ( I was honestly low key terrified), but this guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to use the NYC Subway!
HOW TO USE THE NYC SUBWAY : must have apps
Google and Apple maps
Did you know that google and Apple Maps have a public transit option? These two apps are definitely my most used when it comes to using the subway. They tell you exact directions from where to enter the station to which end to exit. It’s so straightforward that it’s (almost) impossible to get it wrong! Here are some other features
-Both apps stay loaded when you lose service on the train, so you can follow your little location dot and double check you are going the right way!
-They notify you of delays/ train issues and give alternate routes.
-Subways are usually quicker, but if you really want to take a bus, these apps will work just the same!
To check when the next train will arrive this is the best app! Simply choose your line and the station you are at and it will let you know when the next four will be arriving. It also works for buses and rail, plus you can also look up planned maintenance, change in service and delays.
This app is an interactive map where you can see all of the lines and where they go. It also gives you information on delays, train maintenance and that type of stuff!
Below I break down the different types of passes offered, but before that, here are a few things you need to know.
-You can get a regular metro card that is refillable with either time or value. For example, time would be a weekly or monthly pass while value would be putting $20 on the card.
-For your first time to the city you will need to purchase a metro card for $1. These can be bought at any kiosk.
-Each of these passes can be used on local subways and buses.
Types of Metrocards
This is a paper ticket that is good for just one single ride and is not refillable. I can’t really think of a scenario where you would need this type of pass. It is $3
Pay Per Ride
With this you will be using the refillable metro card I mentioned above and it is used to add value. A single ride on this card is $2.75, but the minimum amount you can put on is $5.50. This card can be swiped multiple times in a row which is helpful if you are sharing with someone else.
This will also be used on the refillable metro card, but will add time. For $33 you will be able to use the subway an unlimited amount of times for 7 days. Unlike the pay per ride where you can scan immediately again, you have to wait 18 minutes before you are able to use this pass again.
If you are here for a week’s vacation (or even 4/5 days) I highly recommend getting a week pass. To make it worth it you will have to ride the subway 12 times during your stay and it’s highly likely your pass will pay for itself after 3 days of adventures in NYC!
The same features of the weekly pass stand for the monthly pass too, except of course it is for 30 days and is $127. If you’re moving to NYC then the monthly pass is probably best for you. I use the subway almost every single day, even if I’m not working I take it to the gym or the store or wherever! The card pays for itself if you use it at least twice a day.
How to enter the turnstile
Okay I totally get the anxiety that comes with walking up to the turnstile with 100 people behind you and your card not working. You try to walk through and get blocked by the turnstile while the guy, who was wayyy too close to you to begin with, runs into you cause people are not patient in NYC!!
So, to take some stress away, make sure the black strip is facing you, then swipe from front to back. If nothing is happening the black strip might be facing the wrong way. If there isn’t enough value on the card, the reader will tell you. Occasionally you are swiping correctly, but it asks you to do it again and possibly a third time where the reader says “swipe again at this turnstile” swipe again and by then it should work.
Ok, you’re through the turnstile! Now what?
How to use the nyc subway
Uptown or Downtown – First thing to know, are you going uptown or downtown? This is obviously very important to ensure you’re headed the right way! BEFORE you enter the station you already need to be reading signs to ensure you are on the right side of the street. In larger stations this might not matter as you can walk to either side from inside the station. In smaller stations though, it might matter what side of the street you enter on. If you swipe in and realize you are on the wrong side of the platform you will have to exit, walk across the street and swipe again.
Uptown and Downtown in Manhattan truly means that if are looking on a map and want to go down to the bottom of the island you go downtown and vice versa. Super simple
Traveling East to West
When you are in lower Manhattan and more trains are running East to West the whole downtown or uptown thing gets confusing. For this, use your handy google or Apple Maps app and it will say something like “headed towards Jamaica center” or “headed towards World Trade Center” and find the sign that correlates. Easy, right?
Local vs. Express
Alright, so we know where we’re headed, but there are more signs we need to read! When you walk down the stairs to the platform you’ll probably wonder, crap do I go to the train on my left or right? Above the tracks on each side there will be a sign with the train name (A,B,1,6, etc..) and which direction it is going (towards Jamaica center, downtown, Bronx, etc..) and if it is a local or express train.
What does local vs. express mean? Local means that this train will stop at each stop on the line, while express means it will skip multiple stops on that line. For example. The B line is local so between 145th street and 59th street it will stop at every stop (135, 125, 96, 91, etc..) While the D is express, so between 145 and 59 it will only stop at 125 and then skip all stops until 59th.
safety on the subway
Before I got to New York I was already thinking about my safety when riding the train, especially at night. Normally there are always people on the train so you are never really alone, but of course, there are those times when you might be coming home later than normal and the foot traffic is lighter. In this case, the best thing to do is trust your gut. If someone is giving you weird vibes, don’t be afraid to move train cars. I do this ALL the time for some of the smallest reasons.
Overall, take the same precautions you would in any city. Keep your belongings close to you and in your front pockets, and generally just be aware of your surroundings.
If you are feeling a bit uneasy then I recommend sitting at the front near the conductor, it will make you feel more secure knowing someone in control is nearby!
How to use the nyc subway – tips for first timers
Look for route changes – Before you head out wherever you are going it’s always a good idea to check the MyMTA app and check for any route changes, construction work, etc.. The route you may have planned the night before might be different now. Train schedules can change pretty quickly.
If you forget to look before you head out, read the signs posted on walls. They’ll let you know about any changes in service. This is especially important on the weekends as things may have changed from Friday to Saturday.
When should I walking vs. take the train? If your route only requires you to take one stop on the train, it might be more beneficial to walk. You’ll be healthier for it and often it takes the same amount of time.
More NYC subway tips
Small talk isn’t a thing – This isn’t like an airplane where people might chat about where they’re from or where they’re going (which honestly I hate that too) so unless it’s to ask for directions, don’t try and make small talk.
If you like a performance, tip! – I’m sure you’ve seen videos online of performances on the subway and some of them are actually really impressive (and terrifying if they get close to kicking you in the face.) If you like a performance and have the means, definitely drop a dollar or two.
Prepare for no personal space – As you know, there are a lot of people in NYC and if you are riding the train during rush hour expect to be real cozy with the people around you. Be respectful and take your backpack off and move to the side when others are getting on and off. Also, don’t block the doors!! You’ll likely get pushed or asked (not so nicely) to move.
Empty cars are empty for a reason – If you see an empty train car and think you just got lucky, think again! The car most likely has a terrible smell, the air conditioning is broken or there is someone in there you don’t want to be around. Avoid empty cars!
There are definite pros and cons when it comes to taking public transportation, but overall I think the subway is a much better option than driving in the city! I hope this guide helps you during your trip to New York and you now know how use the NYC subway! Are there any big tips I might have missed? Let me know in the comments!
Coming to NYC for the first time and not sure what you should know before you go? Read my first-timers guide to New York City.
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